Building a strategic roadmap to scale RPA

As reducing prices lower the barriers to entry, strategic planning with a clear agenda can make the RPA journey easier for organizations, and speed up the adoption of RPA tools

Automation is not a new concept- it has long been known as a great productivity booster for the organizations. It’s just that the potential is now much augmented with advanced tools and technologies and so is the interest among the organizations to leverage that potential. Robotic Process Automation (RPA) has been transforming the business processes across industries, by automating the repetitive, monotonous, and redundant tasks. But it has the potential to transform the complicated processes as well. Recent reports by Gartner say that Robotic Process Automation has become the fastest-growing segment of the global enterprise software market now with the revenues growing at 63.1per cent to $846 million in 2018.

BARRIERS TO ADOPTION:

But in spite of a strong interest in technology, the number of organizations adopting RPA at scale was not very high until two years ago. But the change came with the organizations showing the signs of maturity in terms of understanding the value of strategic implementations, as well as the benefit-cost ratio, payback period, etc. Decreasing prices and easy accessibility of the tools will also spur the democratization of technology further. The average RPA prices will be decreasing by approximately 10-15 per cent this year, as per a Gartner estimate.

Although the decision-makers may know the benefits that RPA can bring to an organization, it is not always easy to identify the areas or processes which can be automated easily or to bring maximum Return on Investment (ROI), which also impacts the adoption of RPA at scale.

Vijay S. Bhaskaran, Partner, Robotics and Intelligent Automation, EY India said, “Lack of availability of information on the current operations e.g. data based on processing activities and the effort spent, impending process changes, technology changes, etc. is one of the key factors that contribute to inaccuracy or lack of clarity on business case. Getting the processes data baselined before the estimated business case and having a robust process selection and benefit estimation framework that will factor in the above challenges will help in driving accuracy of the business case. Securing sign-off/agreement on the business case from the business stakeholders at all stages helps minimize the impediments in realizing the business case benefits.”

DEMOCRATIZING ADOPTION 

Milan Sheth, Executive vice president – IMEA, Automation Anywhere, said, “Gartner predicts that by 2020, 40 per cent of large enterprises will have deployed RPA software, up from less than 10 per cent today. This accelerated growth becomes possible when the technology is put into the hands of a wider array of users who continue to build their skills in developing, deploying and scaling RPA.”

As cost can be a prohibitive factor to adoption for a hot and emerging technology like RPA, hence, a number of RPA tool and solutions providers have come up with innovative ways that can lower the adoption barriers for individuals and organizations. For example, they can now get fully functional software robots for free with the Community Edition of Automation Anywhere, and UiPath, WorkFusion’s RPA Express, etc.

Creating bots may seem to be complicated; however, such platforms and tools have made building bots as easy as creating structures out of a ‘Lego block’. Alternatives like these can also help small businesses turbocharge their automation initiatives, added Sheth.

“We haven’t seen the cost of RPA tools as the impediment, but the lack of understanding of the art of possibility of RPA acts as an impediment in RPA adoption. Free trials or Proof of Concepts(POC) helps in getting the flavor of possibilities of RPA with ‘no-strings’ attached. In several organizations we have worked with, the bot execution videos of the POC have triggered the interest among the business users, providing clarity on the possibilities and benefits of RPA and have expedited decision-making,” said Bhaskaran.

To further lower the cost and accelerate the adoptions many leading RPA solution providers offer RPA-as-a-Service. Raghu Subramanian, President and CEO of UiPath India, said, “RPA offered on a SaaS basis reduces the upfront costs and effort of RPA adoption considerably and will open the doors to RPA for businesses of all sizes. It provides benefits like faster set-up, easy scalability with zero infrastructure and administrative costs. The other way if democratizing RPA is by skilling and providing monetization opportunities to the developers.”

STRATEGIC PLANNING

As no business wants to miss the RPA bus, hence, they need to strategize well before the adoption. Identifying the processes that need to be automated as well as setting the expectations right for short-term and long-term ROI is very important before making the implementation decisions.

RPA journey should be incremental and divided into the initialization, industrialization, and institutionalization phases, said Pooja Malhotra, Senior Manager, Publicis Sapient. “The first phase should focus on implementing few robots across business functions, automating high impact, simple, repetitive and tedious task. The focus should be on continuous improvement, adoption and validating outcomes against the set benefits. The bot should help maximize productivity, and ROI. The focus should not be on replacing jobs but on the ability to gain maximum efficiency; reduce error in the mundane or time-consuming task; reduce employee workloads and help them take high-value tasks, etc. The industrialization phase which follows would involve implementing RPA at scale and automation of several hundred business processes and the institutionalization phase outspreads the automation across the organization.”

Kumar Visvanathan, General Manager, People Shared Services, Mindtree, said, “We believe in tasting our wine before it is served to our customers. We performed value stream mapping on some of our internal processes to identify areas of automation. The next logical step was to look for repeated, sequential, mundane tasks where human intelligence was nil or minimum. That is how tasks were identified for RPA intervention. Some of them included the bots interfacing with our applications and the rest were on email and worksheets. One key decision made was to introduce RRA only when the process had reached a certain level of maturity as we all know that automation cannot fix process inefficiencies. Before the bots were developed we looked at possible benefits and wherever we had the benefits outweighing the risks significantly, we went ahead automating those tasks. Thus we took a practical approach on whether to automate or not and what to automate when it came to automating internal processes. We now have built case studies that demonstrate how these RPA bots are delivering value to us.”

EMBRACING THE CHANGE

Planning for the change is also an absolute must. Various aspects of organizational culture must be weighed-in before implementing any transformative process. When employees learn that a robot will be doing the work they have been doing for so long they can be worried about the job-loss and may even resist the change. Organizations need to build a culture that encourages the human workforce to accept, adapt, and work alongside the digital workforce.

Retraining, upskilling, and redeployment of freed capacity should also be a key part of the RPA program, as organizations end up creating a significant amount of bandwidth for the workforce that can be better utilized.

Also, perceptions of RPA may vary widely among IT and business units and raise questions regarding where in the organization RPA expertise should reside. An effective change management strategy that addresses the questions is equally important in this case.

BEYOND QUICK WINS

While FTE benefits (FTE or Full-time equivalent is the hours worked by one employee on a full-time basis), improvement in service quality due to faster processing, error-free transactions, and the ease of scaling up and down are seen as some obvious benefits of RPA, there are some lesser known benefits which are often overlooked.

-RPA helps in gathering data about the business operations accurately which otherwise wouldn’t have been possible through manual operations. Over time, this data acts as an asset for organizations to derive insights of strategic value.

-RPA is used as a lever to insource the business operations that have been previously outsourced due to lack of talent pool – this helps businesses by providing better control for organizations delivering long-term value.

-RPA helps in boosting employee morale as it frees them from repetitive rule-based tasks and provides them with opportunities for value-added work and career growth.

-Reduced service cycle times result in higher customer retention and loyalty.

AGE OF INTELLIGENT AUTOMATION IS HERE

As the RPA market matures, more intelligent and powerful RPA solutions are making inroads. When combined with traditional RPA, cognitive technologies can create intelligent automation solutions.

KPMG has demystified the jargon and has broken it down into three broad categories: 1) RPA, 2)enhanced process automation, and 3) cognitive automation.

While RPA can create virtual bots can be configured to perform very rudimentary processes and tasks, enhanced process automation is a notch better, as the tools can learn either by watching a human solve problems or by consuming additional data.

Cognitive automation, on the other hand, is typically more expensive and may even take longer to implement than traditional RPA tools in specific scenarios. But the power of cognitive automation is potentially limitless, as cognitive software can emulate human behavior, intelligence, and capability to take decisions on its own.

Ambuj Agrawal, CEO & Founder of cognitive RPA startup, ZappyAI said, “The choice of implementing cognitive RPA depends on the nature of the processes organizations intends to automate. Traditional RPA solutions work well for certain kind of rigid processes, which involves structured, voluminous data and are strictly rules-based. But cognitive automation would be more useful in dealing with complex, unstructured data that requires human intervention. But with an increased pace of digitalization, organizations would value cognitive automation solutions which go well with changing business environment, data formats and changing business rules, etc. In fact, both will co-exist, as they cater to completely different requirements.”

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